The View from Garnet Hill – Student Walkout and Occupations |
Yesterday, November 24th, was a national day of action against cuts in the education sector and the massive rise in fees faced by students in England and Wales. All across the country students walked out of their schools, colleges and universities and took to the streets or occupied buildings on their campuses.
Occupations, teach-ins and walk outs took place in Kent, Birmingham, Loughborough, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Essex, Hastings, Winchester, Dursley, Leominster, Bradford, Newcastle, Durham, Bristol, Leeds, Cardiff, London, Plymouth, Sheffield, Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham, Manchester, Lancaster, Warwick, Southampton and more. A full list and reports can be found on Indymedia.
The events of yesterday at the University of Glasgow will hopefully show two things. First, that there is palpable anger at these government plans and a genuine willingness to show solidarity with students in England and Wales who are going to be the first to feel the education cuts. Secondly, that the student movement has to be careful to resist attempts by certain factions to neuter and control the movement.
Students at Glasgow University had agreed to walk out of their lectures and classes at 11:45a.m. in order to rally at the main gates of the university. Some 350+ students including students from a local secondary school gathered in high spirits with the aim, agreed at a Glasgow-wide organising meeting last week, of marching into town to join with students from across the city at the Donald Dewar statue on Buchanan street at 3pm.
Once enough of us had gathered we headed off marching onto University Avenue and around campus. I must admit to feeling a bit baffled when we circled back to the main building but when we marched into the building itself spirits palpably started to rise even further when it appeared we were going to occupy the administrative section of the building. Sure enough we marched right up to the (locked) doors leading to the vice chancellor’s offices. Locked doors are no obstacle that cannot be overcome, however; people were soon pushing at the doors, which looked like they were easily going to give way and allow us to take control of the building.
However unbelievably, or unsurprisingly depending on your perspective, members of the Socialist Workers Party(SWP) student group blocked the doors, preventing us from gaining access, doing the jobs of the cops. I’m sure they will try and justify this but their behaviour was despicable. A sizeable amount of people on the demonstration wanted to get into the building and, without a doubt, an occupation would have ensued. Laughably, the SWP reported this as:
“700 students fought police and security to get into the vice chancellor’s office. There is now a sit down occupation outside the office.”
This organisation’s disconnection from reality is ridiculous. I really don’t want to dwell on them too much but I feel they acted in an extremely uncomradely and damaging manner. Had they not done this there would certainly have been three occupations in Glasgow, both Strathclyde University and Glasgow School of Art students went into occupation as we were marching, and we certainly wouldn’t have lost the numbers that we did after this.
After a slight scuffle with the SWP at the doors of the Vice Chancellors office, not cops and security as they report, some students went to look for other ways into the building but were shocked to find self-appointed SWP stewards pointing out unlocked doors to the security.
Shortly after this we were treated to some ‘rousing’ speeches which saw many become bored and drift off. After the speeches the 250-300 of us that were left marched back to the front gates of the uni but were confronted with half a dozen police vans and accompanying cops who stopped us, with the assistance of the ‘stewards’, from marching onto the road. After 10 minutes or so a large groups got bored of waiting at the gate and headed to a second gate which was promptly blocked by cops. Within seconds the
cops in hi vis vestsstewards were there berating us for ‘splitting’ the march and telling us the cops were doing us a favour by closing the road. I know Glasgow drivers can be bad at times but I fail to see how even the most bewildered of drivers could miss hundreds of people blocking the road.
Eventually however we were away and onto University Avenue and from there we marched into town via Kelvin Way and Sauchiehall Street ready to meet our fellow students on Buchanan Street. Again the crowd that remained were very lively and the atmosphere was generally good. We marched into town to much support from passers by and when we arrived at the Glasgow School of Art we were greeted with the occupiers hanging banners out of the window as we cheered our support to them. Many more students from the GSoA joined us at this point swelling our numbers a great deal and in good spirits we marched on into the city centre and to the rally point at the Donald Dewar statue.
We arrived at the rally point early and had a sit down protest which went down well with people already on the street who seemed a bit bemused by the relatively large police presence for a group of students.
For some reason we left the Donald Dewar statue early and headed to Strathclyde university to show solidarity with the students occupying there. Well, I say “for some reason” but it does seem that it was in order to allow the
cops in hi-vis vestsstewards to maintain control of the demonstration. Whatever the reason, the result was that any students coming from other schools, colleges and universities – including Stow College students who walked out during a royal visit from Prince Edward – would have missed us.
So in numbers fewer than we should have been we headed down full of energy to George street and Strathclyde University. It was a heartening sight to see so many students behind the glass front of the building cheering us as we arrived. The pictures don’t really do it justice. Lines of police prevented us from entering the building to join those inside and the sit down protest outside was quickly surrounded by cops, where we remained for around an hour.
As there were gaps in the police line people were generally able to get out of the ‘kettle’. Except that is from when SWP stewards filled in the gaps. So a small group broke away from the kettle situation and occupied city chambers, literally round the corner form the sit down. Shortly after when groups of people attempted to leave to show support to them were ordered to sit back down by SWP
cops in hi-vis vestsstewards.
So what can we take away from the experience in Glasgow? I think the most important thing we can take away from the day’s experience is that the anger and energy people are feeling is palpable and potentially dangerous to those who seek to wreak havoc and destroy our future. If we, as students and workers, can work together then nothing can stop us.
Secondly, we need to be aware that there are those among us that will seek to control and deflate our anger and energy for their own gain. On future demonstrations we should pay no heed to the self-appointed stewards and if they won’t get out of our way in future we’ll have to go through them!